Food for Thought

Grocery Cart

What groceries do you buy each week?

Did you ever wonder how French toast got its name? Did the French culture really ‘invent’ it? In fact, the delicious dish known today as French toast in America was actually first created before France was even a country! Ancient records have shown that the Romans would dip stale bread in milk and eggs and fry it to make otherwise tasteless bread tastier—nothing was wasted as far as food was concerned! Over the years, it has been called German toast, Spanish toast, etc. depending on the country where it is made. In France today, this dish is called ‘pain perdu’, or “lost bread.” When immigrants from France came to the US, the dish was associated with their heritage, and the name “French toast” came into being.

Food + Family = Culture
Food is such an integral part of any culture, reflecting the history, geography, and traditions of a country. It can tell us a lot about daily life and cultural values. For kids, it can be fun to learn about the eating habits of people in other countries and make comparisons with their own family dining traditions.

An apple—or a baguette–a day…
You can get a glimpse of world food traditions by visiting this site which displays what a week’s worth of groceries looks like for families around the world. You can see the variety of meats, drinks, vegetables, breads, and grains from different parts of the world. Kids will also notice how the abundance and variety of food choices change from one culture to another. While this is only a glimpse of the world, it can provide a starting point for conversations about culture that can help children better understand the world in which we live in.

In addition to considering the typical foods from around the world, be sure to look at the clothing, houses, and décor of the families. Where can you find the similarities and differences?


Get organized with Symbaloo

Bookmarks for the web

We all have our favorite web pages for news, blogs, social media and more.  If you are interested in language and culture, you might have some favorites as well such as on-line dictionaries or travel tips or photo sites that keep you inspired and help you learn. Symbaloo is a great way to keep track of your resources in a visual bookmarking format rather than just a listing of sites on your browser’s ‘favorites’ tab.  One of the advantages of Symbaloo’s free site is the ability to color code  your links to create visual categories of many topics in one simple page.

Color-coded simplicity

For example, imagine that you want to learn Italian in your family.  You have searched many websites and identified certain ones that provide cultural or historical information about Italy.  In Symbaloo, you can create a tile for each site and ‘label’ it as a color, let’s say blue.  You have also found some sites that are more appropriate for children that help review Italian words or provide age-appropriate on-line learning games.  These can be grouped together as green, for example, to help you identify them more easily.  Finally, perhaps you are planning a trip to Italy next, and are researching certain hotels, tours, or city maps to plan your adventure.  Each of these sites can be grouped and color-coded as well so you don’t have to keep searching for those bits of scrap paper where you wrote the webpage’s 57-character url…..

Language and culture at your fingertips

If you have an interest in multiple cultures and languages, you can arrange your Symbaloo page by culture.  For an example of this, visit Explor-A-World’s webmix.  Once you create your own webpage mix, you can share it with others.  Make your language adventure a family affair!  Share the same web resources with grandparents, cousins or far-flung family and friends.  Create a section on your Symbaloo page for Skype, Facebook, or your own family blog to stay connected and share your language learning experience with distant family.

Once your Symbaloo mix is created and shared, you can notify users when you add a new tile or resource. Sign up for a free account today and get your webpages organized!

If you have a language- or culture-related webmix, share it in the comments section below!

Pardonnez-moi: Learning Cultural Etiquette

Communicating with words and more

Learning to communicate involves more than just knowing what words to say. There are questions of how you say those words, when to use them appropriately, and also how to express yourself with your body,  hands, and behaviors.  I watched a World War II film recently in which an Englishman spying on German soldiers inadvertently seals his fate. He orders three drinks by holding up his middle three fingers–rather than using a thumb and two fingers as a German would–and this simple gesture gives him away.   Now, most cultural ‘faux pas’ won’t cause life or death consequences, but knowing the cultural etiquette of a country you are visiting can help you avoid embarrassing situations and manage the expectations you might have!

It’s about time.

In Greece or Brazil, punctuality is not extremely important; however, in Luxembourg you are likely to offend if you are not on time for a meeting.  Knowing the cultural expectation will help you know how to respond if you get out the door behind schedule.

Nice to meet you.

In many cultures, conversations begin with questions about how your family members are doing.  Take the time to answer and inquire about the other person’s family–these are not considered personal intrusions, but rather expressions of concern, respect, and politeness.

Don’t get touchy.

Russians might use lots of hugs, back-slapping or other physical displays when conversing, while Taiwanese are more reserved and may nod rather than shake hands upon first meeting.  In some countries, people stand very close when talking.  To others, this may feel like an invasion of ‘personal space.’

Take time to learn about the cultural etiquette of different countries.  This site offers many examples of behaviors to expect when greeting, meeting, dining, and visiting other countries.  After reading about other places, what examples of cultural etiquette can you give for YOUR country?  List your thoughts below in our comment section!

5 Ways to Teach Kids Global Awareness

Many top educators agree that global awareness is an important part of a child’s education.  As the world becomes more interconnected, children need to gain the knowledge and communication skills necessary to actively engage with people from diverse cultures and traditions.  But what is the best way to achieve this, especially for younger children?  Here are some ideas to help you and your family become a more globally-aware household!

Great Global Links and Ideas

To learn about current world events:

  • DOGO News offers an international article page with current events as well as fun, quirky stories from around the globe.
  • National Geographic Kids features a People and Places page that posts interviews with world citizens, explanations of different world traditions, and news on environmental issues.

To connect with local cultural groups:

  • See if your city is home to a Sister City International chapter,
  • Perhaps there is a chapter of a cultural group such as the Alliance Francaise in your region.  These groups sponsor local educational events, often for free, that teach others about the language and customs of international cities.
  • Attend local ethnic festivals in the summertime! The sights, sounds, and taste (yum!) of local festivals is a great starting point for learning about the history and diversity of your own community!

To explore your family heritage:

  • Take a trip to the library to research the country or countries of your ethnic origin!
  • Learn to cook an international food related to your family’s ethnicity
  • Play a traditional game–there are many ways to engage in cultural practices, and who doesn’t like to play and eat?
  • Interviewing relatives who have first-hand knowledge of the “old country” is another great way to strengthen family ties while learning!

To learn a language, one word at a time!:

Learning a new language doesn’t have to be a daunting task!  Start small, with common words and phrases that you can use in everyday contexts.  Please, Thank You, Hello–these are great ways to get used to new sounds in another language.  Pick a country or culture of interest to your family and learn a few words each week.  Practice them at the dinner table while enjoying a new recipe from the country you have chosen!

  • Digital Dialects offers learning games in many world languages.
  • Explor-A-World offers free greetings lessons along with activities the whole family can enjoy!

To lend a helping hand:

Another important part of global awareness is teaching kids that they can make a difference in improving the world around them.  Connecting your child’s interests to the charitable work is a great way to get them thinking about how they can make a difference.

  • If gardening or animals are a favorite topic for your tot, for example, consider learning about Heifer International.  Their website features kid-friendly games and information on how Heifer helps families escape poverty through gifts of agricultural tools and animals.
  • Other kid-friendly charities include Smile Train and Hoops For Hope–by donating allowance or helping to organize a community giving event, kids can learn that they CAN make a difference in the world!

What other ideas can you share about helping kids become more globally-aware?  Leave a comment below!


Website Wednesday: A Time Explorer’s Adventure

Educational Games for Digital Natives

Your mission: locate lost artifacts from ancient civilizations while avoiding dangers! Does this sound like your kind of adventure? Then check out the British Museum’s Time Explorer’s Adventure game at
Click on the Kids Discover block to find games suited for children that take you back in time to learn about Ancient Egypt, Rome, Mexico and China. Using simple navigation tools (such as the keyboard arrow keys), kids can explore a virtual Aztec temple, for example, learning about the life of ancient people and the artifacts that they left behind.

Level up!

For today’s “digital natives,” games are a commonplace part of their lives–and I’m sure many parents would prefer that kids learn something while they play! The British Museum site offers just such an opportunity. One benefit of game-based learning is the motivation of the player. Rather than penalize kids for a ‘wrong’ answer, they are encouraged to problem-solve to achieve the game’s goal and move on to the next ‘level.’ Motivation comes from the excitement to see what challenges the next level holds! In fact, many proponents of education reform are encouraging the use of more game-based curriculum to help with everyday skills in math and reading.

So don’t scoff at EVERY game your child might play on-line–there might just be some learning going on!
What educational games are your family’s favorites? Leave a note in our comments section below!